Have you ever heard someone say something so preposterous you felt compelled to interrupt and set the record straight? I experienced a moment like that just six days ago via social media.
There I was, minding my own business as I scrolled down my Facebook timeline, when I noticed a post made by one of my friends, celebrating the legacy of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“The Patriots might’ve lost this Super Bowl, but Tom Brady is still the greatest quarterback in NFL history,” my hopeless buddy mentioned in his Facebook post, gradually turning my stomach with every word read. But he didn’t stop there. He went straight to where no real sports fanatic should ever go. He violated the greatest athlete in all of pro sports.
“I’m not just talking football. Brady is the greatest pro athlete ever, even greater than Michael Jordan,” read the post.
And that’s where I had to intervene. Enough is enough, right? A man can only witness so much blatant disrespect before he reaches his breaking point. And that was it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard that argument before. The infamous Skip Bayless, formerly of ESPN and now a sports debate savant for Fox Sports1 Network, has been arguing something similar for about a year. Ever since Brady pulled off that 25-point fourth quarter comeback victory in last year’s Super Bowl, Bayless claims the 40-year-old quarterback is now not only the greatest and most decorated pro athlete, but he’s also the most “clutch,” meaning he plays better than everyone during critical moments late in games, surpassing even the iconic Jordan in that department. But anyone who has followed Bayless over the years know two things about him: he hates on LeBron James and “stans” for Tom Brady. Brady is Baby Jesus in Bayless’ eyes so I expect him to make illogical claims about his favorite player. But I don’t expect to read that kind of crap from my own peers.
That leaves me no choice but to do my duty and put an end to such a ridiculous notion, now and forever. Tom Brady is not the greatest athlete of all time. He’s not even the 10th greatest pro athlete of all time. And some would argue that because of the limitations of the position within the sport he plays, he may not even be the 100th greatest pro athlete ever.
No doubt, Brady is a great quarterback. He’s a stringy, muscle-less man who couldn’t even make a catch on wide open trick play pass, but he still plays the quarterback position within his team’s system extremely well and that has undoubtedly helped his team win five Super Bowl championships. But never forget that football is an ultimate team sport. It takes 11 men on three different units (offensive, defensive and special teams) to play the sport. That’s 33 different people with assignments that are critical to the execution of any play.
Just think about it: A quarterback can’t receive the ball without a lineman hiking the ball to him; he can’t throw the ball without linemen blocking for him; he can’t complete a pass without a receiver getting open and then catching the ball; he can’t even get the ball back without the team’s defensive unit getting a stop on the opponent’s offense and the special teams unit successfully securing the ball on kickoffs and punts.
Brady plays one position out of 33 positions in a sport, and no matter how glamorous and popular that position my be, the impact of that position simply doesn’t compare to the impact that Jordan had on the outcome of the games he played throughout his legendary basketball career.
Sometimes we forget that Michael Jordan was the greatest two-way player ever. His reign over the NBA is a bit old and forgotten now so all we really have to remember of him are his shoes and YouTube video highlights showcasing his offensive dominance over opponents. Perhaps that makes us forget he’s the first player ever to win MVP, capture the scoring title and win Defensive Player of Year in the same season.
Unlike Brady, Jordan couldn’t just score, then run to the sideline and watch his teammates play defense for him. Jordan had to score 30-plus points while also running back down court to defend his opponent after every offensive possession. When the game was on the line, Jordan not only had to make a clutch shot, but also get the clutch stop himself. A prime example was against the Utah Jazz during Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals. Everyone remembers that game because Jordan hit a walk-off game-winning jumper after losing Utah’s Byron Russell on a crossover move. That was the last shot Jordan took in his Chicago Bulls career and it secured him his sixth NBA title.
But what no one hardly ever mentions is that just before Jordan made that amazing shot, Utah had the ball with an 86-85 lead and only 24 seconds left. The only way Jordan got the ball back was because he wisely snuck up behind Karl Malone on the baseline and stole it from him. Just imagine that—to win the game, you have to steal the ball from a 6-foot-9-inch, 260-pound Hall of Fame power forward (who by the way ranks second all-time in points scored in NBA history), then dribble up court and make a 20-foot jump shot with the entire world watching you.
That’s an experience Brady could never relate to. Pro tennis star Serena Williams may relate because she not only has to score, but also defend against her opponents. Pro soccer star Lionel Messi can relate because he not only has to score, but defend his opponents. But when the Patriots pulled off their miraculous comeback in Super Bowl LI, New England held the Atlanta Falcons scoreless throughout the fourth quarter, and not once do I recall Brady trotting out with the defensive unit to get a stop. I don’t remember seeing Brady intercept a pass or come up with a strip sack to get the ball back for himself. He was a spectator, just like you and I. Just like how he was in this year’s Super Bowl, only this time he watched as the Philadelphia Eagles ripped the Patriots defensive unit to shreds, ultimately giving him his third career Super Bowl loss.
Of course, Jordan didn’t have those issues. He led his team, both offensively and defensively, to six Finals appearances, of which he won Finals MVP of all six. That’s why it’s completely fitting to say: don’t ever compare Tom Brady to Michael Jordan, again.